We arrived in Tatopani by bus from Jomsom. The afternoon was giving way to evening and we were all weary from the long day of travel. Over dinner, we decided to spend two nights in the village - it was late, Tatopani was adorable, warm, full of good food and we were eager to enjoy the hot springs (in Nepalese, Tatopani means, quite literally, hot water. Tato=hot, pani=water).
Lo and behold, we arrived during another festival, this one called Tihar. Tihar, "the Festival of Lights," is a time to honor specific animals, a time for sisters to honor and bless brothers, and a time to celebrate the Goddess Lakshmi. Households and businesses (oftentimes one in the same) artfully decorate entrances with candles and intricate flowers and designs created from nothing more than vividly hued pigment dust. Tihar is a five day celebration where brothers and beasts alike are adorned with tikas on the appropriate day, and food and flowers are found aplenty.
Watch that video above again. These are kids performing a traditional Nepali folk dance in the street during Tihar. This was right outside our lodge, and drew in crowds not only of tourists, but also of locals. The feeling I got was that this performance wasn't necessarily for us, the visitors, but something that they did in celebration of the festival. And these kids were genuinely enjoying themselves. Watching those kids, I couldn't help but long for that kind of authenticity. I imagine they were dancing the same dances that, very likely, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have all learned. These kids were all grins, having a blast performing tradtional dances to traditional music in traditional garb, and, when it was over, threw on their jeans and Chuck Taylors, popped their collars, and performed similar types of moves to top 40 hits from the US.
See, in Nepal, I got the impression that holidays like Tihar are steeped in tradition.
I reflected on my home country, the US. And I couldn't help but wonder at our cultural heritage. We're 200 some years old, just a baby compared to many countries, and we certainly have a lot to be proud of. But as I was reflecting on our nation and our celebratory traditions, in that little town on the other side of the world, I wondered at what sort of legacies and rituals we're creating for ourselves, particularly when it comes to holidays?
And one answer came to me with a heavy heart, overriding all the other cool ways American's celebrate - consumerism. On the positive side, I love that, regardless of personal religion, December has, for the most part, become about giving. So much can be received by giving, and few things bring me more joy than to delight in giving a friend or family member something offered from my heart. Unfortunately, Christmas and Hannakah and Solstice and all the other December holidays have become overrun by much more than that - we've all been there, struggling to find everyone on our list a perfect gift. Trying to show them, through material trinkets and toys and goods, our love and appreciation of them. And sometimes, with all that pressure, it turns into obligation rather than the heartfelt gesture we intend it to be.
I think what I loved about Tihar was the simplicity of the gifts and ways of celebrating. The offering of dance. The offering of blessings to one another, signified beautifully by a small mark on the forehead. The offering and acknowledgement of unity, of connectedness, with hands in prayer above the heart, a bowed head, and a word - Namaste. Things that cost next to nothing to give, but can mean so much more than all the gadgets and gift cards in the world.
Maybe, if we're thoughtful and earnest and acting from our hearts, as Americans we can start to come up with traditions of our own that visitors can be awestruck by, as I was in Tatopani. Though the history of Thanksgiving is tarnished with loss and heartache, the idea behind it is simple yet profound, and brings me closer to where I strive to live everyday: in gratitude. After Thanksgiving, many in our country continue into the season with trees and lights and candles and songs, and I'm a sap for it all. Maybe that's why the tradition of honoring of family, of brothers, that Tihar dictates, the smiles and dancing and lights and decorations that all seem so pure in their intention, uncomplicated in their offering, and authentic and time-tested and truly of value to this culture... maybe the simplicity of it all is what spoke to my heart.
One day, I hope to cultivate celebratory traditions that consist of more than the act of giving purchased gifts. I hope to be honest with myself and my loved ones about what "gifts" and "presents" (maybe presence?) means to me. I hope to create rituals that plaster smiles on the faces of those that I love, that bring joy to our hearts, and that we can't wait to partake in year after year. I may not come from a legacy of traditional dances and attire and adornments, but I have a feeling that if I am, if we all are thoughtful, honest, and speak and act from our hearts, we might be on the right track to creating festivals and celebrations of our own that involve giving the greatest gifts of all, gifts that truly honor the love that connects us: our time, our attention, our presence. Words and songs that speak to how much we really mean to each other, how grateful we are for each other. And blessings to bestow on all.
Happiest of holidays and trails to you, my friends. Namaste.